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Artist insight: Tony

Updated Wednesday 12th May 2010

Mental health problems are much more common amongst those who are homeless than in the general population. Tony, who used to be homeless and addicted to drugs, talks about how he overcame challenges in his life and how he came to work on an animation project.

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Copyright The Open University

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Hello, my name’s Tony and I done the footprint section of the animation.

Well I’ve been coming to MOP now since December and obviously they have different courses here and that. One of the keyworkers said to me, you know, would you like to do animation? And at first I thought no, I’m no good at art or anything like that, and she said go on, have a go, have a try at it, and I thought okay. I went to the first lesson, I thought yeah, it looks good, I tried it out and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it very much. And then I was told to do some storyboarding and that after about a few sessions.

I did enjoy doing the storyboarding because while I was doing the storyboarding I would usually think about it at home and get a piece of paper and sort of divide it into like six or seven or eight squares, and I’d think well what am I going to put in this square, because you need like a beginning, a middle and an end. The trouble is I kept thinking right, well yeah, when’s it going to stop, where have I got to stop it to like, you know. Once it was all put together it was just amazing. And I thought I’d do it about my own experience when I was on the streets, like a year ago.

Well I thought just instead of like when you do normal film making you see people homeless, well why not do a story about, using people’s feet and choosing that instead and I just, I started it off with, you know, as the tiny patter of feet and when the baby’s born and that and then going, you walk through life following people’s footsteps and doing all the things normal people do and that. And then I portrayed it as when I did have problems with drug addiction and problems when I was homeless, and problems that were caused like when I was trying to find somewhere to live and I just felt like I was going round in circles, and that’s what I portrayed in the film, of loads of feet and that going round in circles and getting swallowed up by society. It felt like I was getting nowhere.

It’s, well a bit scary at first I suppose. I do suffer a bit of paranoia and that, I don’t like going through the city a lot of the times when it’s busy. I think it helped to have a few months of being here. I’ve got to know people much better and it is nice, it’s a nice feeling when you can communicate with people. It’s not very nice when you’re at home on your own or something like, and thinking all the time and anxiety creeps in and, yeah, I enjoyed it.

I actually didn’t feel useless. I mean when I was on the streets and that I just felt everything was against me. You know, no-one wanted to know me. But yeah, I work in a group with other people that have got similar problems and that, and it’s really good. I’ve always been that sort of person who criticises myself all the time and sort of, you know, I’d always say no, I’m not good at that, I’m not good at this, so to be involved in that was really good. I felt wanted for once.

I think it was just a matter of getting my self-esteem back again after going through a rough patch in the last two years. I knew I had it in me but it was just trying to get it back again, and it’s like starting life again really. I know that I’ve got a lot of intelligence in me but going through all of the bad things that have happened to me over the last couple of years has stripped me away of everything.

I’ve had a drug problem since I was about fifteen but, you know, I’ve had a good life, I’ve been married, I was married for fifteen years up to this year then I got divorced. About two years ago my wife, I think she’d just had enough of it and she threw me out on the streets. I had to cope with that, and after being married for so long, I mean I had everything really. I had a good job, I had a car, good family, and just losing everything, just suddenly just surviving, especially at me age now, being 41 now, I think it’s a lot harder to survive out on the streets.

But I’ve been at accommodation now for a year, and clean as well for a year now so I’m sort of getting my life back now and trying to be positive about everything, but at the time it was very, very hard. It did come to a stage where I was suicidal because I just felt like no-one’s going to help me, and I got more support, I suppose once I’d got some accommodation I started getting a lot of support then from different agencies. I’m not getting any younger any more and, you know, I suppose a bit of sense came into my mind thinking like, you know, you’re never too old to learn things. I mean I’ve done the animation, I’ve even also done a photography course as well this year, and first aid and things like that, and I’m actually starting to feel good about myself now.

I feel like a bit late in life but, you know, there’s no limit. In fact I might even go to college or something and go for a degree or something maybe. There’s so many options there. I thought like no-one cared about you at all, it’s as if you were invisible, and I felt that about myself because you just put yourself down thinking well why are you in this situation. I just felt like I couldn’t get out of the situation, that the hole was getting bigger and it was harder to get out of that hole, and I always thought I’d have a lot, like with the paranoia you keep thinking people are looking at you in a strange way and then you think, and people laughing at you and things like that, you know. But I felt like a totally different person, I felt that I didn’t exist. That’s probably why I started to have these suicidal thoughts.

I take every day one day at a time now. I’m still fighting my demons I feel in a way, you know, staying off everything. And now I do set little goals and little challenges for myself now, thinking right, I’m going to do this or I’m going to do that, you know. Animation itself is good at expressing things. I mean it doesn’t always have to be through real experiences, you know, that’s what I like about animation, it can be anything. Anything can come alive, and I think it’s been a great therapy for me. It’s taken a lot off my shoulders as well, because I’m that sort of person who will bottle up a lot of things. It’s just like a time bomb really waiting for my head to explode, where with not so many things in my head now I find it easier to cope with each day.

I don’t know what I would have done without organisations like MOP. It’s been a lifeline to me generally. I think if something like MOP wasn’t here I don’t think I would be. It’s like our own little community really in a way. It makes me understand a lot about other people and there are people out there that have got worse conditions or problems than yourself. It lifts a lot of weight off you actually. When you do go through bad patches in life I think you just think at the time it’s just you, no-one else, so it feels like quite a heavy burden on you.

Mostly not to give up, because I think you never know what’s going be round the next corner and there is hope I think. You know, I mean there are times when you just think oh, I can’t be bothered with this any more, but once you start doing something, even if it’s something you haven’t done before, give it a go, you might not like it that much but at least it gives you a positive. A negative part of my life I’ve turned hopefully positive. If I make one person happy then I feel I’ve done the job.

Tony's work

Warning: This animation contains scenes of self-harm that some viewers may find distressing.

Copyright The Open University

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